In this latest from EAC Video, Gregory Biss presents a seasonally appropriate tune—William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost (Rag) and accompanies the piece with a little discussion of the ragtime form. From Scott Joplin’s claim to have invented ragtime and his ‘viral’ hit Maple Leaf Rag in 1898, ragtime has become a popular and pervasive form, stretching into our contemporary tastes, as evidenced by Bolcom’s composition, penned in 1970.
“Nobody knows exactly the origin of the word ragtime,” noted Biss in our discussion. “One theory that I like is that it comes from ‘ragged time’—which was one way that musicians talked about syncopation—the idea of something that’s off the beat.”
Biss said also that Bolcom and contemporaries ‘dabbled’ in ragtime in the 1960s and 70s; Bolcom wrote more than a dozen rags, including Ghost, probably his most famous piece. A composer of symphonic music, operas, theatrical music, chamber music, sonatas for many instruments, Cabaret and popular music, Bolcom is in his early 80s and still going strong. For years, he toured all over the United States with his wife, singer Joan Morris, performing Cabaret tunes; Biss got to hear Morris and Bolcom at a performance in Machias about 15 years back. 
Graceful Ghost is part of a Virtual Concert and Keyboard Talk series that EAC staff and volunteers have been working to produce since springtime 2020. Previous videos were Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E minor (1720s), Etude #3 by Philip Glass (1994), Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor (1787), Biss’ own composition, Nocturne, written in 1991, Chopin’s Nocturne, opus 9, no. 2 (1831), Anton Webern’s Piano Variations, opus 27 (1936), and Chopin’s Impromptu, opus 51 (1842).
Special thanks to volunteer Bernie Cecire and Island Fellow Mark Macey, who worked with EAC staff member Lauren Koss on the camerawork. Editing was completed by Koss.

“As many of you know, I generally play a piano recital each summer at EAC and at Summer Keys in Lubec,” noted Biss. “It was in the midst of those preparations that COVID appeared, so those plans—together with billions of others around the globe—had to be altered. It was with pleasure that I agreed to make several videos of the music, thereby contributing to EAC’s growing portfolio of on-line offerings available on our website. This repertory ranges over piano music from the last 300 years and includes two of my own compositions.There is of course no real substitute for live music and this is digital. But, these were all recorded in two sessions, pretty much in single takes, so they do exhibit the multiple and regrettable foibles which occur in actual performance. And so they are perhaps, ‘kinda live.’ Be sure to view the many videos available at These represent just some of the things we are doing at EAC to fulfill our normal community mission in these most abnormal times.”

Gregory Biss

Special thanks to volunteer Bernie Cecire and Island Fellow Mark Macey, who worked with EAC staff member Lauren Koss on the camerawork. Editing was completed by Koss.

Biss, a composer and pianist, has lived in Eastport since 1975. He was born in Illinois, and educated chiefly in Boston and Germany. His music has been featured by the Denver Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and he performed the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony Orchestra in 2012. His Violin Concerto: just a sec was recently premiered by Trond Saeverud. Biss had a 20-year career as a scuba diver in the aquaculture industry, has been a longtime member of the piano faculty at SummerKeys in Lubec and operates a small business as a piano technician. He is President of the EAC Board of Directors, assistant director of Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony Orchestra, a Peavey Library Board member, and for many years was an Eastport City Councilor. He and his wife Barbara raised four children and now have six grandkids.

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